Just Like a Namibian Mudflat! So sayeth a study of Cassini’s Ontario Lacus on Titan!

Posted: April 22nd, 2012 in astronomy, NASA, nature, Saturn, science, space
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Lake on Titan by Cassini. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech and NASA/USGS)

A recent study finds that the lake known as Ontario Lacus on Saturn's moon Titan (left) bears striking similarity to a salt pan on Earth known as the Etosha Pan (right). (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech and NASA/USGS)

Now this is pretty rad!

Seems the cycle of liquids on Titan works much the same as our water cycle.This is in a desert area and its quite flat and shallow. Cyclically it would fill up with liquid, drain and repeat… in this case, it seems… liquid hydrocarbons.

ScienceDaily (Apr. 20, 2012) — A new study analyzing data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft suggests that the lake, known as Ontario Lacus, behaves most similarly to what we call a salt pan on Earth.

A group led by Thomas Cornet of the Université de Nantes, France, a Cassini associate, found evidence for long-standing channels etched into the lake bed within the southern boundary of the depression. This suggests that Ontario Lacus, previously thought to be completely filled with liquid hydrocarbons, could actually be a depression that drains and refills from below, exposing liquid areas ringed by materials like saturated sand or mudflats.

“We conclude that the solid floor of Ontario Lacus is most probably exposed in those areas,” said Cornet, whose paper appears in a recent issue of the journal Icarus.

These characteristics make Ontario Lacus very similar to the Etosha salt pan on Earth, which is a lake bed that fills with a shallow layer of water from groundwater levels that rise during the rainy season. This layer then evaporates and leaves sediments like tide marks showing the previous extent of the water.

“Some of the things we see happening in our own backyard are right there on Titan to study and learn from,” said Bonnie Buratti, a co-author and Cassini team member based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “On Earth, salt pans tend to form in deserts where liquids can suddenly accumulate, so it appears the same thing is happening on Titan.“

And that is yet another thing to bolster the chances of finding critters out there. And what mind-blowing critters they’d be! As this lake fills and drains regularly with some juicy stuff, my vote is for carbon-based life swimmin’ around in there. As much of Titan is more concerned with elements other than carbon, though, there’s speculation that life based on other elements would likely be the critters of choice.

They’d be a bit different from us I’d imagine, being based on something other than carbon. This is by no means a new concept of course. There is some concern bubbling round in me brainpan regarding a thought on that.

Since carbon is all we know and posts at the forum cannot fathom how other substances would “work,” would we, then, have the innate ability to recognize something that is alive – but bears no quality other than being alive – that we have ever experienced before?

An excellent question.

Spotted this in a recent post at ATS which led to the source article at Science Daily.

Peace.

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